Editorial Note from Julie Reeder: I was going to write an editorial about Sound of Freedom but couldn’t do any better than Madison McQueen. I would encourage everyone to see “Sound of Freedom” and also “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls.” Exoduscry.com has been working to end sex trafficking and abuse in the porn industry for a long time, reaching over 4,000 victims, working with 13 governments, introducing new laws and training over 100,000 people to help fight the problem.
Let this sink in: There are more people enslaved today than at any other point in human history, including when the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was legal. The summer’s top film “Sound of Freedom” has succeeded in not only becoming a surprise box office hit but also in bringing the reality of modern slavery back into the spotlight.
The International Labor Organization estimates 40.3 million men, women, and children are subjected to human trafficking per year. The true figure is likely far higher.
Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain labor or a commercial sex act. The US Department of Health and Human Services says human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating an estimated $150 billion in profits annually—that’s the entire net worth of McDonald’s.
But are children really trafficked that often? According to UNODC’s 2020 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, compiled using official figures from 148 countries, one in three trafficking victims detected is a child. In a survey of 260 survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking, one in six were trafficked under age 12.
Though the Trans-Atlantic slave trade has long since passed, the remnants of this tragedy are regularly brought to the forefront of conversation. Yet somehow, many Americans live in either blissful or willful unawareness of modern slavery, and its vast number of victims. The untrained eye can easily miss the signs of it happening all around us, and it’s easier to go about our comfortable lives if we don’t have to wrestle with this weighty reality.
Thankfully, “Sound of Freedom” has brought this injustice back into the public forum, where it belongs.
Angel Studios, makers of the hit series The Chosen, released Sound of Freedom on July 4 to 2,600 theaters nationwide. So far, the film has raked in over $100 million at the box office, surpassing Disney’s Indiana Jones which was released the same day. The film is inspired by the true story of Tim Ballard, a Homeland Security Investigations officer whose career in locking up pedophiles compels him to rescue children exploited for sex and child sexual abuse material (CSAM, or child porn). It highlights the trafficking networks that prey on vulnerable children and the role American sex buyers play in fueling it worldwide.
Despite the fact that fighting child trafficking is a cause people of all ideological backgrounds should be able to get behind, this film has sparked quite a controversy.
Some critics have gone to lengths to associate the film with conspiracy theories and “right-wing extremism,” primarily using guilt-by-association arguments. Their implied message is “child trafficking isn’t a big problem” and it’s blatantly irresponsible.
Others celebrate the film’s message but lament that it promotes the search and rescue style method of fighting trafficking when, in reality, most anti-trafficking work doesn’t look like this in practice, particularly in the US. Most trafficking doesn’t involve being kidnapped by a stranger, rather victims are often exploited by family members or someone close to them. These kinds of concerns are valid, especially for anti-trafficking organizations, and trafficking survivors, who need to re-educate new volunteers that think they’ll be kicking down doors. Still, it doesn’t negate the fact that this film has sparked a fresh surge of people who are asking “How can I help end modern slavery?”
That is the all-important question.
First, we must cut off the demand. Sex trafficking would end today if men stopped buying sex. The desire to purchase another human for sex is, in large part, one natural byproduct of porn use.
Anti-trafficking and filmmaking nonprofit Exodus Cry interviewed scores of sex buyers, and every single one shared that they began consuming porn in childhood. The effect of porn use on shaping sexual appetites is alarming and well-documented. In Exodus Cry’s documentary “Raised on Porn,” one convicted consumer of child sexual abuse material shares the escalating nature of porn addiction, “After a while, the stuff that worked before doesn’t work as well… I found illegal pornography, child porn… I got the rush. It worked like nothing else did anymore.”
As shown in Sound of Freedom, as well as Exodus Cry’s documentary “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls,” American men are among the most frequent child sex buyers, often flying to countries where they have unfettered access to trafficked children.
Our nation is one of the top countries for sex trafficking and the top consumer of CSAM. We cannot fight slavery while actively participating in it.
Second, we must demolish the “sex work is work” narrative. Prostitution and trafficking are often intertwined. In prostitution, women and children exist to fulfill the sexual desires of men. Buyers often view them as less than human, a product to be bought and discarded. Unlike what sex work advocates want you to believe, prostitution isn’t sexual liberation, it’s sexual slavery.
Most women in prostitution (approx. 90%) are under pimp control, meaning they are likely not receiving the money earned, and fear of their pimp keeps them trapped in a life of exploitation. Eighty-nine percent of those in prostitution surveyed across nine countries wanted to escape it. Prostitution isn’t empowering, it’s usually exploitative and it’s often trafficking.
Third, we must urge legislators to pass laws that criminalize sex buying, pimping, and brothel-keeping while decriminalizing those in prostitution and providing them with resources to find a life outside of exploitation. This legislative model, called the Nordic or Abolitionist Model, is the only law with a proven track record to uproot trafficking.
Without fail, every country that legalizes “sex work” sees higher rates of sex trafficking than countries that have made sex buying illegal. This drives more men to consume women and children for sex. Traffickers and pimps capitalize on that demand.
There’s so much we can do to fight today’s iteration of slavery, and films like Sound of Freedom can help audiences realize that the injustice they see on the big screen can be cut off by starting with the small screen.
Madison McQueen is the content writer and media relations manager at Exodus Cry. Exodus Cry is a leading global anti-trafficking nonprofit organization focused on ending widespread sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, exposing this injustice for millions worldwide, and helping its victims to rebuild their lives.
Reprinted with permission